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Thread: Please help me with a paragraph from Moby Dick

  1. #1
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    Feb 2005

    Please help me with a paragraph from Moby Dick

    It was not in nature that these things should fail in latently engendering an element in him, which, under suitable circumstances, would break out from its confinement, and burn all his courage up.
    Chapter 26(Knights and Squires) - page 126

    Can someone please help me understand what this means? I have read this over and over and I still don't get it. I guess it's just his writing style, but I want to understand exactly what he is saying. Please help.

  2. #2
    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    Sep 2012
    Somewhere in the South East of England
    It is a bit convoluted, isn't it?

    Unless I've muddled all the double negatives, I think it means "these things would normally bring out his tendency to be fearful".

    But I'd be interested in hearing what others think.

    I have been wondering whether to give Moby Dick another go, but after reading that one sentence, I might give it a rest.
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

  3. #3
    In the fog Charles Darnay's Avatar
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    Dec 2005
    trapped in a prologue.
    Blog Entries
    Well here's your problem, you have posted half a sentence. If you want to understand a confusing sentence you must consider the whole thing. In this case the full sentence begins with "but" so you would have to go to the previous one.

    See if that helps.
    I wrote a poem on a leaf and it blew away...

  4. #4
    Registered User mona amon's Avatar
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    Oct 2007
    I interpreted it as "[because of certain things that had happened before] he could not help being fearful under certain circumstances".

    Starbuck was no crusader after perils; in him courage was not a sentiment; but a thing simply useful to him, and always at hand upon all mortally practical occasions. Besides, he thought, perhaps, that in this business of whaling, courage was one of the great staple outfits of the ship, like her beef and her bread, and not to be foolishly wasted. Wherefore he had no fancy for lowering for whales after sun-down; nor for persisting in fighting a fish that too much persisted in fighting him. For, thought Starbuck, I am here in this critical ocean to kill whales for my living, and not to be killed by them for theirs; and that hundreds of men had been so killed Starbuck well knew. What doom was his own father's? Where, in the bottomless deeps, could he find the torn limbs of his brother?

    With memories like these in him, and, moreover, given to a certain superstitiousness, as has been said; the courage of this Starbuck which could, nevertheless, still flourish, must indeed have been extreme. But it was not in reasonable nature that a man so organized, and with such terrible experiences and remembrances as he had; it was not in nature that these things should fail in latently engendering an element in him, which, under suitable circumstances, would break out from its confinement, and burn all his courage up. And brave as he might be, it was that sort of bravery chiefly, visible in some intrepid men, which, while generally abiding firm in the conflict with seas, or winds, or whales, or any of the ordinary irrational horrors of the world, yet cannot withstand those more terrific, because more spiritual terrors, which sometimes menace you from the concentrating brow of an enraged and mighty man.
    Taken in context, this quote becomes easier to understand, or at least you don't notice if you haven't understood , and Wow, it's magnificent. Think I should re-read too.
    Exit, pursued by a bear.

  5. #5
    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Apr 2012
    Reading, England
    It means something is worrying him. He is keeping a lid on his fears at the moment, but if things start getting dangerous, he might lose his nerve.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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